“For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.” (Acts 17:20-22)
Wisdom from God comes in many forms. Sometimes it provides us amazing answers to challenges about our faith. Other times God provides opportunities to engage our faith in the “wisdom of the world.” I call this “in-spite-of” wisdom. In spite of the current talk and philosophy and manner of life around us, we can share our faith. A couple of notes about this kind of wisdom from Paul.
First, Paul declared Christ by being asked to share these “strange things.” This is where prayer and discernment and living a stable, peaceful, “centered” life pay off. People, moved by God Himself, will ask. They will ask us to share our faith. We don’t have to goad them into asking. All we need to be doing is living out our faith on a day by day basis so that others see Jesus in us. In a university environment, in a context of questioning and searching, the “ask” will eventually be given to a faithful Christian. Wait for the “ask.” Long for the ask. Pray for the ask.
Then, Paul showed respect for his questionnaires. He did not begin with confrontation, but with discussion and used their own belief system as his starting point. Some writers call this finding the “common ground” in witnessing. I’m not sure it was that so much as a “starting point” of discussion and interest. Paul showed wisdom in behaving the way these Athenian philosophers behaved and thought. He engaged them on their turf, their rules, their sanctions. Yes, Paul later got to the essence of faith and the gospel, but he did so very wisely and in spite of their unChristian viewpoints. He left the results in the hands of God and in the timing of God, which is the last in this series on wisdom.
O Lord, grant me this “in spite of” wisdom today as we begin our celebration of Holy Week. As You give me opportunities to respond to questions about my faith in You, help me respond in respect, in trust in Your leading and timing. Help me respond not defensively but proactively, willingly and trusting in You for Your outcomes. For Jesus sake.